A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that although Summer of the Gypsy Moths is a little unrealistic and somewhat confusing at the start, it builds into a good, strong story with unforgettable characters who show a unique ability to survive. But it isn't quite the innocent summertime read that the cover illustration implies, and it may be best for middle-grade readers. The prose is wonderful though complicated in spots, and parents should be prepared to discuss foster care issues, as well as a pivotal plot element (finding a dead body and its subsequent backyard burial), which may make the book iffy for younger/sensitive kids.
What's the story?
Two 11-year old girls, who are like "oil and water," are forced to live with Louise, who manages a small resort near the beach in Cape Cod. Stella, who has been sent to live with her great-aunt because her mother can't care for her, likes routine, collects "Hints from Heloise," and is amazingly resourceful. Angel, on the other hand, is a bit more bristly. Though she lacks Stella's daily know-how, she's about as independent as they come. She's been in and out of several foster homes, has no time for Stella at all, and is looking for the fastest way out of there. When Louise has a heart attack, the girls' already unstable world looks as though it may get even worse. That is, until the girls come up with a plan to keep things intact until they can get a foothold. Little by little, their choices force them to depend on each other, to grow and change (for the better), and to find the families they hope for.
Is it any good?
The characters are great, the writing is superb, and the story is captivating. SUMMER OF THE GYPSY MOTHS blends the nostalgic feel of a summer beach adventure with a mix of lovable characters, unique plot elements, unexpected events, and an uplifting ending. A few of the premises are a bit of a stretch -- for example, how the girls take care of Louise, and what they're able to do on their own.
But writing that's sensitive, funny, and full of fascinating details will carry most readers through those moments of disbelief. Young readers, especially, may begin this book feeling a bit confused and get to the middle feeling shocked over what these two 11-year-old girls do, but when most readers get to the ending, they'll want to pick it up and read it all over again.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how hard it would be for two 11-year-old girls to do what Stella and Angel do. What other books have you read about kids who are resourceful and take care of themselves in difficult situations?
What would have happened if Stella and Angel had called 911? Do you think what they did was reasonable? Believable? How did their actions affect the storyline? How did the author make what happened seem real?
What does Louise mean when she says Stella and Angel are like "oil and water"? In what ways are they the same, in what ways different? How does working together change them?
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